August 29, 2016
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Jeff Bridges, left, plays Marcus Hamilton and Gil Birmingham plays Alberto Parker in the film "Hell or High Water." ( cbs films photo )

‘Hell or High Water’ is intense modern Western

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In the desolate Texas of “Hell or High Water,” a bank clerk (Dale Dickie) gently sasses the ski-masked robbers with the condescending assessment, “y’all are new at this.” That’s the world created by director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan in this post-recession Western, which plays like a Johnny Cash song come to life. All the adventures and angst of the good bad guys that Cash sang about are on screen, in this tale of men fighting for prosperity in a world that’s no longer made for them.

“Hell or High Water” is a film of parallel pairs — bank robbing brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), and the Texas Rangers on their tail, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Both are odd couples, volleying nuggets of folksy, genial wisecracks back and forth, on an ambling collision course toward violence and blood. But they agree on a common enemy that also happens to be a victim here — Texas Midlands Bank.

Toby has enlisted his fresh-out-of-the-clink brother Tanner for a mission that’s two parts desperation, one part revenge. He brings the motivation and moral compass while Tanner brings his wild, adrenaline-ravaged energy and the gumption to pull off these heists. Foster is electrifying as Tanner, disappearing into the role with a few extra pounds and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses. He’s coiled like a rattler ready to strike, alternating between outbursts of aggressiveness, country-fried charm, and stillness, maintaining a mostly steady hand on his cool.

De Niro, Ramirez enter the ring in ‘Hands of Stone’

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“Hands of Stone ” is a sprawling yet fairly conventional biopic about the Panamanian boxing champion Roberto Duran — a man The Associated Press once declared the 7th greatest fighter and No. 1 lightweight of the 20th century. For the uninitiated, the title refers to Duran’s nickname. He was known for packing a mighty hit and (usually) winning.

When he faced Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in 1980, he was 71-1. He won that match too, only to forfeit it six months later in a bizarre re-match that’s become known as the “No Mas Fight.” Popular myth would have us all believe that Duran said “No Mas” to end the match partway through. He’d fallen out of shape in the months between the two fights.

‘Don’t Breathe’ is a well-plotted, thriller

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To all you Detroit-area robbery crews, we should probably warn you right away: It’s just not a good idea to pick 1837 Buena Vista Street for your big — and final — score. Take our word for it, walk away.

Sure, it sounds like an easy hit. The address is a home in a run-down section of the city, so there’s nobody around. The house is kind of moldering, too. And, yes, the owner is an old blind man living alone who apparently has a fortune stashed somewhere. But, listen, let this one go.

Gorgeous ‘Kubo’ is a wonderful adventure fantasy

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Even in this heyday of computer-animated movies, the greatest special effect is creating emotionally resonant characters. The adventure fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings” is seamless stop-motion storytelling from Laika, the independent animation studio that gave us the darkly entertaining “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”

Yet wizardly art direction isn’t the film’s most striking quality. It’s the endearing, playful, touching, cantankerous and sometimes frightening individuals who supply this spectacular story about friendship, courage and sacrifice with its life force.

Biblical epic ‘Ben-Hur’ plays it (too) straight

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“Ben-Hur” and Charlton Heston go together like sword and sandal, the two being inextricably linked in the public mind.

But the new, $100 million version of Ben-Hur owes less to the well-known 1959 big-screen epic in which Heston starred than to the 1880 Lew Wallace novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” on which both are based.

‘War Dogs’ tells a crazy but lazy story of young arms dealers

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“War Dogs ” is too good of a true story not to get the Hollywood treatment, even if the end result doesn’t entirely do justice to the moral ambiguities and larger geopolitical implications of one of the craziest hustles in modern American history.

Essentially, in 2007, a couple of 20-something stoners from Miami Beach landed a nearly $300 million contract from the Department of Defense to supply ammunition to the Afghan military. And, unbeknownst to the U.S. government at the time, many of the supplies they were selling were over 40 years old and basically unusable.

‘Pete’s Dragon’ (pleasantly) stays earthbound

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NEW YORK — After an exhausting summer buffet of set pieces, superheroes and whatever s-word you might use for “Suicide Squad,” the gentle “Pete’s Dragon” is a welcome palate cleanser. Where other summer movies are chest-thumping, it’s quiet; where others are brashly cynical, it’s sweetly sincere; where others are lacking in giant cuddly dragons, “Pete’s Dragon” has one.

Few may remember the 1977 Disney original, in which a young boy’s best friend was a bubbly dragon invisible to others. As part of Disney’s continuing effort to remake its animated classics in live-action, “Pete’s Dragon” has been confidently reborn as an earnest tale of green-winged wonder.

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ hits too many sour notes

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There are times when it is obvious that the star of a movie has more invested in the project as a potential way to win awards than entertaining the audience. It may not be a conscious decision to approach the work that way, but the results are the same.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” comes across as one of those kinds of projects. It looks like a production designed more to be a lure for Meryl Streep to be nominated for awards than it is intended to be a solid overall movie. And, she’s Streep. Even a home video of Streep on Facebook would get Oscar consideration.

Antiheros prove no antidote for ‘Suicide Squad’

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The superhero movie is at a strange crossroads. It generally either takes itself too seriously (“Man of Steel,” ‘’Batman v Superman”) or delights in not caring a bit (“Deadpool”). The choice, dear moviegoer, is yours. Do you prefer your costumed heroes to brood or to break bad?

Right now, good is out; self-proclaimed “edginess” is in; and a cape might get you turned away from the nightclub.

‘Jason Bourne’ is a ripped-from-the-headlines thrill

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It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. That’s if the dog is super-soldier former CIA agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), and the trainer is director Paul Greengrass, who helmed Bournes “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum.” After the misfire that was “The Bourne Legacy,” a misguided attempt to pass off the franchise to Jeremy Renner, Damon and Greengrass ably right the ship, delivering a Bourne film that looks and feels like the kind that we’ve always loved.

“Jason Bourne” delivers everything that we expect from this franchise. We want Damon making swift, brutal work of his enemies, landing heavy punches and turning mundane household items into deadly weapons. We want him burning rubber on narrow European streets, burning out the clutches on any motorized vehicle he can hijack. We want CIA bigwigs, illuminated by the glow of computer screens shouting “enhance!” at surveillance footage and exclaiming in awe: “It’s Bourne.” All of that is here, gloriously.

‘Nerve’ is thrilling, jittery internet game gone wild

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The romantic teen cyber thriller “Nerve” makes for a fascinating double feature with another release this weekend, “Jason Bourne.” Both films want to debate the ways in which online surveillance affects our everyday lives, but while “Bourne” wrestles with the state and corporate America, “Nerve” throws caution to the wind and exchanges privacy for cold, hard cash proffered by a bloodthirsty, anonymous mob.

The jittery, colorful “Nerve” is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who explored the complicated nuances of digital existence — and invented a euphemism — in the 2010 documentary “Catfish.” “Nerve” is very different, but no less concerned with the consequences of exposing yourself to mysterious forces on the internet.

Fast-paced action makes ‘Star Trek Beyond’ furious

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Thanks to director Justin Lin, “Star Trek Beyond” is the most fierce in the 50-year history of the franchise. Lin combines the kind of full-speed-ahead action that he brought to the “Fast & Furious” franchise with a story that harkens back to the days when Gene Roddenberry was creating the show.

“Star Trek Beyond” picks up with the crew of the Enterprise a little more than halfway through their five-year mission. A sort of malaise has set in as the search for strange new worlds has become a bit mundane.

Latest ‘Ice Age’ disappoints

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Fourteen years after the first “Ice Age” animated film was a hit, the fifth installment in the franchise, “Ice Age: Collision Course,” rolls into theaters. Is it inevitable? Yes, 2012’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” was the highest grossing animated film that year. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. “Collision Course” is simply a perfunctory, watered-down entry in the series that feels like it should have been released on home video.

In this world of ancient animals — wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, flying dino-birds — facing apocalyptic, era-shifting, asteroid-borne problems, it feels profoundly odd that the emotional stakes of the film are centered around the wedding of Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie’s (Queen Latifah) daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer). Not to get too nit-picky about a fantastical film for children where a group of animals blow up a bunch of crystals in a volcano to set an asteroid off course, but the concept of marriage is decidedly anachronistic here. Also, they’re animals. When anything’s possible, centering a story around something as mundanely heteronormative as a wedding feels wildly unimaginative.

‘Lights Out’ will make you afraid of the dark

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David F. Sandberg’s excellent horror flick “Lights Out” is a film about common fears and universal phobias; about things that go bump in the night, and exist only in the dark. Built on a clever premise, the film is executed seamlessly. It’s the best expression of a low-budget horror flick: resourceful and smart, where the most charismatic character is the ghoul itself. At a lightning quick 81 minutes, Sandberg creates a thoughtful and very scary world in “Lights Out,” a spooky tale about what happens when the demons in your head come out to play.

Teresa Palmer is Rebecca, a gorgeous, if quick-tempered, goth chick with commitment issues. The one person to whom she is devoted is her baby brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who has been left to contend with their mercurial mother, Sophie (Maria Bello) in the wake of his father’s (Billy Burke) violent death. This spare film cuts right to the chase to maximize prime scares: mom’s got a ghostly friend, Diana, from her days as a teen mental patient, and Diana is a very jealous, very possessive presence. Meddlers in the relationship are dealt with in painful, terrifying ways.

Who ya gonna call? ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot is a hoot

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Much of the conversation around the gender-swapped remake of “Ghostbusters” has been protests from (mostly) male fans of the original, who don’t want to see women in the roles popularized by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson in the 1984 original. But what’s the fun in re-creating a direct facsimile of a piece of art or entertainment? This version, directed by Paul Feig, written with Katie Dippold, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, proves to be a fun and fresh way to reboot the franchise.

The beloved original “Ghostbusters” was a cultural phenomenon, and nothing will retroactively change that. But the “Ghostbusters” that 2016 demands is not the one from 1984. All the predatory leering, sensual dream ghosts and weirdly sexy ghost possession would go over about as well as a Bill Cosby joke this year, and the gender-flip is the exact right way — the only way — to reboot “Ghostbusters.” Happily, Feig and team easily pull it off. The film is legitimately hilarious, spooky and manages to capture the irreverent fun of the original.

Bryan Cranston gets bad again in ‘The Infiltrator’

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“Breaking Bad” was the turning point of Bryan Cranston’s career, the moment when he went from goofy “Malcolm in the Middle” sitcom dad to masculine antihero emblematic of the “Golden Age of TV.” It’s the mid-life crisis of suburban sitcom dads who find out that they really like being bad. It’s a role that will most likely define Cranston for the rest of his career, and in his latest film, “The Infiltrator,” it’s impossible to not see his performance through the lens of Walter White.

“The Infiltrator” is the tale of two Bobs: Mazur and Musella. It’s a true story, based on the book by Robert Mazur, a U.S. customs special agent who went undercover in the 1980s to expose big banks working in collusion with Colombian drug cartels to launder money. Cranston plays both Bobs — Mazur is a modest Miami dad with a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids, and Musella is a flashy mob money launderer with a young, glamorous blonde fiancee (Diane Kruger) draped in fur and jewels.

Animal lovers will delight in ‘Secret Life of Pets’

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Any pet owner who’s imbued their furry or feathered friends with deep thoughts and mysterious intentions will relate to the imagination behind “The Secret Life of Pets.”

It may not have the emotional resonance of a Pixar movie, but with its playful premise, endearing performances and outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat, “Pets” is fun, family (and animal)-friendly fare.

‘Mike and Dave’ need a much better movie

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Although the premise is spelled out right there in the title, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” makes very little sense. That’s despite it being (shockingly) based on a book. Well, a “book,” written by brothers Mike and Dave Stangle as an obligatory cash-in on their viral Craigslist ad.

Sex comedies shouldn’t necessarily resemble real life, but the film doesn’t even convincingly craft its own internal reality in this story about a pair of rowdy brothers who end up with an even rowdier pair of dates to their sister’s wedding. There are no rules or character motivations, words come out of Zac Efron’s mouth when it isn’t moving, and Anna Kendrick’s wig changes color at random.

Spielberg weaves magic in Dahl’s ‘BFG’

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There’s a secret about children that Steven Spielberg, Melissa Mathison and Roald Dahl have always known — that no matter how innocent, kids are as capable of understanding darkness as adults, and sometimes even more so. It’s not that it’s some completely unacknowledged truth, but it is one that rarely seems to permeate what we consider “children’s entertainment” in any real way. It just makes adults too uncomfortable. It’s also the reason why the under-10 set flocks to Dahl.

A measured embrace of the deep menace in Dahl’s words is why this long-time-coming adaptation of his 1982 book “The BFG ” not only succeeds, but shines. It’s not just some pleasant romp into the world of giants. It’s an honest-to-goodness, gut punch of a journey, crackling with heart, uncertainty, and overflowing with all-out wonder.

Flawed ‘Tarzan’ still the best one in years

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One of the exciting things about seeing trailers for “The Legend of Tarzan” was how much of an update it looked like compared to past efforts over the last 40 years. No mostly naked Bo Derek sitting around with chimpanzees, telling Tarzan she’s a virgin while eating a banana. No Andie MacDowell having her voice dubbed because it sounded too Southern. No Rosie O’Donnell voicing an animated gorilla with a New York accent.

This was supposed to be a modern Tarzan, with quality actors with appropriate accents, CGI finally making the apes terrifying, and a well-constructed, original story that manages to pay enough tribute to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs books.

‘Election Year’ is the craziest Purge yet

“The Purge,” 2013’s low-budget home invasion horror hit, found its breakout star in The Purge itself: an annual 12 hour bloodbath of government-sanctioned mayhem. In this dystopian near-future, the New Founding Fathers of America have instituted the contained lawlessness in order to keep crime and the population in check. The 2014 sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” liberated audiences from the confines of a single home and let loose into the streets of murderous chaos.

That film’s breakout star, the brooding Frank Grillo, an American version of a taciturn Jason Statham tough guy type, is a Purge angel of sorts. His character, Leo, is back in “The Purge: Election Year,” which is the biggest, baddest, berserkest Purge so far. Writer/director James DeMonaco has written and directed all three films, maintaining a consistency of tone and style, including bits of humor and cartoonish weirdness among the grim, dark and terrifying possibilities.

GO Kenosha

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